“Public awareness about radiation safety will allow us to ensure a safe environment for future generations” - Ruslana Tripaylo

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, numerous sources of radiation in Ukraine that were used in medicine and at industrial enterprises became abandoned and forgotten. The number of such sources is unknown, and they keep endangering human life and health. Furthermore, any person who buys a source of radiation on the market may end up in jail.

We have discussed with Ruslana Tripaylo, the Deputy Head of the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate, how the use and burial of IRS (ionizing radiation sources) is controlled and monitored, how the system works, and whether any punishment is imposed for their loss or misuse. This interview with the expert was conducted as part of the radiation awareness project “A STEP to Safety".

- The regulator you represent is in charge of radioactive waste control. Therefore, the issues of nuclear and radiation safety are also within its competence. How could you describe the safety situation that we have today?

- The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine is the state regulator for nuclear and radiation safety in the area of nuclear energy use. Radioactive waste management is a component of the system of nuclear energy use and the nuclear regulation system. Our legislation is fully created, functioning and meets international standards. Our state regulation infrastructure has all resources, technical capabilities and specialists required to carry out state regulation.

The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate has the following three main instruments: legislation (safety requirements, criteria), permission and supervision systems, and sanctions. Therefore, we can state that our regulator is complete, with the maximum functions provided by international documents. Regarding the radioactive waste control, it rather pertains to the competence of the State Agency of Ukraine for Exclusion Zone Management (SAUEZM). This agency is responsible and monitors radioactive waste, keeps a register of storage facilities for such waste and other facilities that are under its control. With respect to radiation safety, I can say that it is satisfactory in Ukraine today, because there is a system that works. Every year, we prepare reports on the condition of radiation safety, which are posted on our official website.

- What are IRS (ionizing radiation sources)?

- IRS are mostly closed sources of industrial type used in all areas of the national economy and therefore may be accessible to people. The largest area of use is medical. The source itself is a radioactive substance enclosed in a capsule or a device that can emit radiation under certain conditions. Generating devices are safe for people because they emit radiation only when connected to electricity. Radionuclide sources are of greater hazard. Open sources are used as devices for medical diagnosis, for scientific research. Closed sources are used more widely (e.g. for technological process control, in medicine – for treatment and diagnosis). It is a capsule built in some device, equipment, which can be hazardous if not used for its intended purpose.

- Why are IRS still accessible to ordinary people if they are hazardous?

 - In general, all IRS are under regulatory control. People may have access to some sources that are lost or old and have never been under control (they are called “abandoned”) or vulnerable sources. Abandoned sources may get smuggled because they have never been under control. Vulnerable sources appear in the places where funding is lost, where the source is no longer used for its intended purpose, and where it is stored for a long time. Therefore, the legislation and we are providing measures to minimize the number of such sources, to find them and put them under control.

-How are the use and burial of IRS controlled and monitored? How does this system work?

- It is a single cycle that ensures the entire control of the source “from the cradle to the grave” - from the moment when the source enters the customs territory of Ukraine (radionuclide sources are not made in Ukraine) until the transfer of the source back abroad or recycling into radioactive waste. Why is that so? In order to import a source into Ukraine, it is necessary to show an import permit at the customs control. The customs authorities should also complete a special form and send it to the IRS register. When the source reaches the border, we already know what kind of source it is, who brought it and why. The information is kept in the register. Any business entity willing to use IRS must inform the state regulator. We have a flexible regulatory system, which provides a differentiated approach. Not all sources get licensed. It depends on the level of potential hazard. Sources with a low level of hazard are recorded in the state register, which allows their use. More active sources require licensing. IRS with a hazard level lower than required for registration are exempt from such control. When the license expires, the entity should decide what to do with the source. One of the options is to store it as radioactive waste.

Another option is to return to the supplier. 6 months are given for these manipulations.

- Can it happen that some IRS may get lost under such a system? What is the punishment for losing or misusing IRS?

- According to statistics, the loss of control over IRS occurs in all countries. No matter how efficient the regulatory system is, such cases do occur. The aim of the state and regulatory authorities is to minimize such cases, i.e. to take the measures that will help return any lost or abandoned sources under regulatory control. One of the measures is to search for such sources.

- How many IRS are stored in Ukraine and how securely are they stored at the radioactive waste disposal site located in the city of Dnieper?

- There are two categories of the IRS that are stored. One of them is the IRS that are in use. There are 8660 of such IRS in the state register. The number of generating devices is 16,378. The quantity of the sources that can no longer be used, are closed and have been transferred to specialized enterprises (such as SSE “Association Radon”), is 662,379.

The Dnipropetrovsk branch stores 8391 sources and 212,391 used sources. The legislation provides administrative and criminal liability for illegal use of sources, for working with them or storing without a license. There are efficient amnesty programs - voluntary surrender of IRS. I’d like to note that the sources that are in free circulation are of category 4 or 5 by the level of hazard, i.e. they cannot cause any substantial harm to people or environment.

- What kind of radioactive waste is transferred there?

- The regional branches of Association Radon receive used IRS, which are low or moderately active solid radio waste, or liquid radioactive waste coming after use from specialized enterprises.

- What is the response to any abandoned IRS found or illegally circulating sources?

- We have a specific procedure set out in Resolution No. 813 of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine dated 02.06.2003. This procedure ensures cooperation between legal and state authorities when any radioactive materials are found in illegal circulation. The response includes the following steps: first, to cordon off the area around the detected source, to prevent any outsiders from entering this area. Then special service personnel arrive and conduct dosimetric measurements to determine the degree of hazard and to give recommendations for further actions. Then the removed source is transported to the Institute of Nuclear Research and later delivered for storage to regional branches of specialized enterprises.

- How should people act if they find IRS?

- If you find an object that you cannot identify, never pick it up. Do not approach it. If possible, install some barriers and notify special services. Our call officer is on duty 24/7 and receives calls promptly. You can also contact the SES (State Emergency Service).

- Is it worth talking about radiation safety after so many industrial accidents?

- Of course. Unfortunately, such accidents occur around the world. And the likelihood of such accidents decreases in proportion to the growth of safety culture in society. Therefore, public awareness will allow us to maintain international security standards in Ukraine, to prevent radiation accidents and ensure a safe environment for future generations.